The Rise of Self-Indulgent Comedy*.


*The following contains spoilers for Master of None, Girls and Trainwreck.

The past year has been a banner one for alternative voices in comedy.

Hannibal Buress refocused the spotlight on Bill Cosby’s history of alleged sexual assault during a stand-up gig in Philadelphia at the end of 2014. The Mindy Project was cancelled by Fox but found a new, more risqué home at Hulu, while Fresh Off the Boat, Black-ish and Master of None are changing the historically white male face of comedy. Closer to home, Black Comedy and The Family Law are making similar strides, and we can’t forget the success Amy Schumer found in 2015.

But despite comedy’s newfound diversity, not all of it hits the spot.

A common theme many of these shows share is that they’re created, directed and/or produced by their stars which, while it’s an answer to the paucity of women and minorities both on screen and in positions of production power, it can also lead to self-indulgent storytelling that pigeonholes its creators into catering to a niche audience.

Master of None debuted on Netflix late last year to rousing success, becoming the streaming service’s most popular show. Several of its episodes were met with critical praise, particularly “Parents” and “Indians on TV”. Creator and star Aziz Ansari’s musings on children, race and sexual harassment were true to life, but they can be considered sporadic standouts amongst a largely self-indulgent experiment filled with bad acting and rambling jokes.

Take, for example, the 1:16 minute interaction between Ansari’s character Dev and Arnold (played by Eric Wareheim) about the meta dynamics of the Eminem movie 8 Mile and its theme song, “Lose Yourself”. I, too, have often wondered about the specifics of where Marshall Mathers ends and Eminem begins, but the bit’s backstory is something only die-hard comedy fans might be privy to and therefore could be alienating to a casual audience. The character of Denise (Lena Waithe), who has sat, off-camera, opposite the two throughout the duration of this exchange shares many audience members’ feelings when she says, “Can we please talk about literally anything else?”

When I asked stand-up comedian Martin Dunlop, who’s currently performing in his Melbourne International Comedy Festival show, Murder, He Spoke, for his thoughts on this flat transaction he said, “Like so much of the show, [this scene] doesn’t function as comedy. They’re not playing off anything… But it doesn’t really work as a slice-of-life scene either. Wareheim’s character is particularly ill-defined, an odd drifter who’s role in the series as a whole never becomes clear, though a lot of the blame for that falls on Wareheim, who doesn’t seem to be a very strong actor. That describes my problem with the series as a whole. Where something like Louis functions as a drama or a comedy at different times, Master never really worked for me as either.”

Osman Faruqi, Sydney-based writer and broadcaster, agrees, telling me that he “found the 8 Mile scene pretty jarring and lazy. Non-sequiturs can be funny but this came across like something two 15 year olds would have joked about in school. It was pretty self-indulgent and out of place… I think Master‘s comedy worked best when it reflected on aspects of contemporary society the audience was familiar with. When it deviated from that and inserted random jokes that had nothing to do with the story, it fell flat.”

And while I haven’t seen Ansari in much of anything else, I found his acting to be less-than-stellar, always coming across as if he’s been taken by surprise or an extra in one of those poorly acted insurance infomercials. His character acts primarily in commercials in the show, but I’m not sure it was Ansari’s intent to also give off this vibe himself. The use of Ansari’s real life parents in the roles of Dev’s elders may be an indictment of , but I found Fatima Ansari as Dev’s mother to be grating. Ansari’s the showrunner and what he says goes but the use of his parents seemed selfishly at the detriment to the show.

For all the things Master gets right, on the whole it’s a thought experiment about an unlikeable bad actor rife with rambling jokes and poor casting that left me wondering how far removed from Ansari his character is.


Whereas Ansari is struggling to come up with content for a nonetheless greenlit second season of Master , Amy Schumer almost had too much material for her runaway box office hit, Trainwreck. Schumer’s character of the same name works at a misogynistic men’s magazine as a plot device to introduce her to her love interest, a sports doctor played by Bill Hader she’s writing a profile on, but she could just as easily have been a freelancer who works from home, sparing us the drawn out office scenes. Professional wrestler John Cena was hilarious as Amy’s muscle-bound meathead boyfriend but his scenes were a good twenty minutes of homophobia that could have been reserved for the director’s cut DVD edition.

As with some of Schumer’s stand up work, a lot of her shtick didn’t land,and for some inexplicable reason, the funniest jokes made it into the trailer but were absent from the theatrical release.

Trainwreck felt more like a rough draft of a film with far too many incidental storylines that came across as pandering to its writer and star (are we seeing a common theme amongst these comedies?). In refusing to make these edits, producer Judd Apatow does a disservice to Schumer as Trainwreck really did have all the attributes to become a different kind of rom-com, both from the Kate Hudson fare of the ’00s and Apatow’s own gross-out anti-women bro comedies such as Knocked Up and This is 40.

Another rom-com of sorts, Lena Dunham’s Girls, also produced by Apatow, is perhaps one of the most criticised comedies on air today. Dunham has been accused of everything from racism to exhibitionism to sex worker-exclusionary feminism to child molestation, with her responses to some of these appraisals coming through on Girls, now in its fifth and penultimate season.


Of the three comedies discussed here, Girls’ Dunham is perhaps the least able to be extracted from her character. Dunham shot to mainstream notoriety with the release of her HBO show in 2012 whereas Ansari starred in Parks & Recreation for seven years prior to Master and Schumer had been going viral with her Inside Amy Schumer sketches long before Trainwreck. Perhaps her rapid success influences the oftentimes “painfully narcissistic [and] shockingly tone deaf”, as Ray puts it in this season’s opener, themes Dunham chooses to deal with in her show. Her repetitive nudity, though refreshing from a body-positivity standpoint, and the inclusion of a token black lover (played by Donald Glover) as a response to an unrealistically white Brooklyn she chose to portray in Girls’ first season come across as childish trigger responses to larger issues, which Dunham is normally open to discussing.

The argument could be made that criticisms are only foisted onto Girls and, indeed Master and Trainwreck, because they’re not made by white dudes. Do we hold Louie and Seinfeld to the same standard?

I asked fellow Girls devotee and freelance writer Camilla Peffer what she thought of the show’s self-centredness and whether objections to it can be boiled down to the fact that it’s for and mostly by women. “I think the self-indulgent shtick gets thrown around because society values high impact stories, not stories that rehash the minutiae of everyday life,” she told me. “To a man, the heartbreak of falling out with a best friend might hold no resonance. Neither does creating meth to save your family from poverty, but stories like that create a sort of prosthetic experience, much like playing a video game.

“Is Girls more self-indulgent than the work of Ansari or Woody Allen? It’s just as self-indulgent. But why is that a dirty word? All art is self-indulgent. Creating relies upon a certain level of introspection, so without that self reflection, it’s impossible to make anything that can truly have an emotional impact on an audience.”

Girls, along with Dunham, can be “painfully narcissistic”, as Ray put it, but it has moments (a lot in this season alone) when it’s one of the more realistic portrayals of young, white, New York millennials in pop culture today.

To some degree, the same can be said about Master of None, Trainwreck and other self-indulgent comedies. Self-indulgence doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of self-awareness: the two go hand in hand and are needed for a true-to-life portrayal of these undoubtedly personal stories. Just because they’re not necessarily speaking to me, an upper-middle class white chick who has the luxury of voicing her opinion on this platform, doesn’t mean there’s no value to them. It’s important to have diverse voices speaking about the myriad of topics Master, Trainwreck and Girls do, such as family, race, sex, dating, “finding yourself”, urban life, and what’s acceptable behaviour for women and minorities. It’s also important that these diverse voices have the opportunity to fail which, in some respects, I think they have.

Elsewhere: [USA Today] The 8 Mile Debate on Master of None Has a Surprisingly Emotional Backstory.

[THR] Will There Be a Second Season of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None?

[OUT] Trainwreck‘s Homophobia Puts John Cena in a Headlock.

[HuuPo] Lena Dunham, Girls Creator, Addresses Race Criticisms on Fresh Air.

Lead image via Your Movies in Mind.

The Rise of the Hunk.

This article was originally published on TheVine on 9th August, 2012.

“You know the apocalypse is nigh when men want to see a movie about a talking teddy bear and women want to see a movie about male strippers,” read a friends’ recent Facebook status.

While the world may be ending in December, and the integrity of Ted is questionable at best, I think it’s high time hetero women (and gay men to a lesser extent) turn subjugation on its head and become the voyeurs, and they’re using Magic Mike as a tool to do so.

Never before in mainstream Hollywood film can I recall a movie that so blatantly puts the male body on show for the unashamed consumption by straight women, primarily. Tom Cruise may have been shirtless for the majority of Rock of Ages, and True Blood has as much male eye candy as it does female, but Magic Mike is the first of its kind to feature conventionally attractive and perennially half-naked male actors as strippers: Hollywood’s last taboo, perhaps.

The male form has been sexualised for the last few decades, notably in underwear commercials. Remember Mark Wahlberg’s Calvin Klein’s and David Beckham’s distracting Armani ads? Or how about a shirtless Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid Love, which arguably spawned the current obsession with him that has reached fever pitch? Porn star James Deen is experiencing a cavalcade of female appreciation not normally seen with adult actors. Even pay TV channel LifeStyle You is cashing in on the male body objectification trend, using in their advertisements shirtless men carrying out everyday household duties like ironing to reel the women in. (Because women are who we talk about when we talk about “lifestyle”.)

In the male stripper movie vein, there was that late ’90s UK effort, The Full Monty, which featured a bunch of average Joes getting their kit off at the encouragement of women, demonstrating that men don’t have to look like Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello or Matthew McConaughey for women to find them sexy and to want to see them naked. But there is a certain allure to rippling abs, strong thighs and loaded guns that the comedic stripteases of unemployed steel workers just doesn’t have…

Dodai Stewart writes for Jezebel of the hollering and hooting in the cinema when she went to get her Channing fix, while I noticed more of a silent sexual tension in the air. There was nary a squeal of approval throughout, which lent a certain palpability that watching a sex scene with your parents or a potential love interest might elicit. Tatum’s dance moves succeeded in getting me and—if all the mute leg-crossing, uncrossing and squirming in seats was any indication—all the other red-blooded, presumably straight women in the audience hot under the collar. As Stewart continues, “Could it be that women are so used to seeing the female body sexualised on screen—from the point of view of the male gaze—that we don’t even know how to react to the sexualized male body?”

It seems that the characters who are virgins to the Tampa male stripping scene don’t know how to react either, with Alex Pettyfer’s portrayal of Adam consisting of equal parts disgust at Mike’s occupation and awe at the perks of his lifestyle. Adam’s sister, Brooke (played by Cody Horn), is closed in on by the camera when she first sees Mike dance and a range of emotions cross her face: judgement, arousal, amazement, discomfort at the role reversal male strippers provide. Discomfort and concern are also expressed by the bank clerk when Mike attempts to get a loan, showing up with a down payment in wads of ones and fives. Presumably the teller recognises Mike from the male revue, and offers to sign him up to a program for “distressed” clients, inferring that because he gets his kit off for money, he must be either strapped for cash or lacking self-esteem. Hmm, where have we heard this before? Usually directed at women who trade on their looks and are deemed “at risk”, “battered” and, yes, “distressed” as a result. Mike even has to resort to the ol’ spectacles trope to be taken seriously as he enters the bank, an action most often utilised by hot chicks who want to appear smarter. Speaking of hot chicks, in another play on man as sexual object, Mike’s lover, Joanna (Olivia Munn), tells him she doesn’t want to talk about his feelings: “just look pretty”.

With all the double standards that come with being a male stripper in Magic Mike—female adoration, money, drugs—Caroline Heldman at Sociological Images wonders why this kind of “stripping as fantasy life” attitude would never be seen in media about female stripping: because Magic Mike still panders greatly to male sexuality.

“Make no bones about it, this movie is all about reinforcing the notion that men are in control and men’s sexuality matters more…” Heldman writes. “… [M]any (but not all) of the simulated sex acts the dancers perform in their interactions with female audience members service the male stripper’s pleasure, not hers. Dancers shove women’s faces into their crotch to simulate fellatio, hump women’s faces, perform faux sex from behind without a nod to clitoral stimulation, etc. As a culture, we have deprioritised female sexual pleasure…”

Indeed, there is no full frontal male nudity in the film (does a stunt penis in an enlarging device count?!), however Munn and the actress who plays stripper Ken’s (Matt Bomer) wife have their breasts on show, as well as several other female nude scenes. When it comes to the penis, it would seem that it is the last taboo, not male stripping.

That Tatum’s penis ever so briefly flashed onscreen during a bedroom scene means there’s hope for a full-frontal peen shot yet, with Magic Mike 2 on the horizon. You’ll notice that most of the male stars of the films’ careers have thrived on the comidification of their bodies. McConaughey is more recognisable with his shirt off than on and Manganiello has been quoted as saying he “could care less” about being typecast as a beefcake. I find it kind of refreshing that men are wanting to show off their bodies in a way that has been traditionally reserved for women.

For those who cry “hypocrite” at the women who’re now wolf whistling at the screen, as if all women find the sexualisation of their bodies oppressive, I direct you to one of the core tenents of feminism: choice. If women are deemed autonomous enough to make their own decisions about their bodies and whether they want to use them as a commodity, it stands to reason that men are, too. It might be a hard concept to grasp, but after centuries of the ingrained objectification of women, perhaps men want to try their hand at being desired as opposed to desiring.

While the mainstream media still has a ways to go towards female sexual liberation and the refocusing of the gaze onto men and away from women in a way that benefits all parties and exploits none, Magic Mike is a step in the right direction.

Elsewhere: [Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] On #DailyWife & Writing for the “Women’s Pages”. 

[Jezebel] Magic Mike, Junk in the Face & the Female Gaze. 

[Sociological Images] Magic Mike: Old Sexism in a New Package.

[The Frisky] 12 Women Who’ve Used Their Sexuality (To Get Ahead).

[Salon] Male Strippers: Please, Just Leave It On.

Movies: 50 Shades of Boring.


I caught 50 Shades of Grey over the weekend and I think I’ve finally realised what’s wrong with it: it’s boring.

Christian is a cold, blank slate who wants to manage Anastasia’s eating, exercise and birth control and this is certainly problematic, as is the unrealistic and vanilla (despite its alleged S&M edginess) sex, though the film seeks to rectify this somewhat. This is nothing new: the patriarchy has been controlling women since the beginning of time and Christian is just the latest in a long line of fictional men from Big to Ruby Sparks to The Colour Purple to 50 Shades’ inspiration, The Twilight Saga, to do so.

Just some of the ways E.L. James’ hero upholds the patriarchy:

He won’t let Ana touch him because men act, women receive.

He doesn’t want Ana to call him by his name because that would signify equality in their relationship.

While Christian expresses bafflement and what could be described as disgust for Ana’s virginal state, it is a proxy for her innocence and pliability: a more experienced woman perhaps wouldn’t initially be so taken with the money, damage and a personality equivalent to a box of hair that make up Christian Grey.

As mentioned above, he won’t let her exert control over her own body: many women prefer other methods to taking hormonal birth control.

And too bad if you feel like a day off from the gym to eat junk food and veg in front of the TV; not on Christian’s watch.

It’s sad that female consumers are so starved for women-catered romance and erotica that they’re willing to buy the books in droves and flock to the cinema at the slightest hint of something that’s apparently made for them. (Granted, the film is many shades better than its source material, but it can only stray so far.)

Many women also experience such control in their own lives, with parents, partners and doctors dictating which birth control they should or shouldn’t be on; money, time and mouths to feed affecting which foods they should prepare and eat; social pressures influencing how often they’re to exercise; cultural and social mores mandating how to express their emotions, desire and sexuality; and the men they’re supposed to love and trust exerting physical and verbal abuse onto them. That the hordes of viewers throwing their money at this franchise haven’t yet picked up on how thoroughly non-revolutionary it is is baffling.

Ana hits the nail on the head when she asks Christian why he wants to hurt and change her. Don’t be fooled by his pleas that “she’s changing him”: with the amount of male-on-female violence in relationships in reality, nothing about Christian, his red room of pain and him wanting Ana to submit to him is fantastical, revolutionary, sexy or exciting.

So, in addition to 50 Shades being badly written and grossly misrepresenting BDSM, it’s just plain boring: audiences want to escape when they consume pop culture, not be met with yet another iteration of everything they’ve seen, read and heard before about sex and relationships.

Related: 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James Review.

Image via Variety.

Movie Review: Gone Girls & Nice Guys*.

Gone Girl Nick Dunne smile

The movie version of Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne and Rosamund Pike in the title role and based on the 2012 book of the same name by Gillian Flynn, was released in theatres in October. While Flynn’s manuscript gives equal time to its disturbed married main characters in the form of Amy Dunne’s (Pike) dairy entries and alternating chapters from Nick’s point of view, the film adaptation made it clear that Gone Girl isn’t about the gone girl in question at all, but about her NiceGuy™ husband, who is sick and tired of all the “crazy bitch whores” in his life “picking [him] apart”, and how he deals with his wife’s sudden disappearance. Sounds like a real nice guy to me!

Affleck’s early roles in Kevin Smith’s late ’90s odes to man-children, Mallrats and Chasing Amy, are apt precursors to the film directed by David Fincher and adapted for the screen by Flynn herself. Nick spent the majority of the 2 ½ hour-plus movie chasing another Amy when it emerges that his wife’s apparent kidnapping—or, god forbid, murder—was an elaborate, sociopathic ruse to frame the inattentive and at times abusive Nick. Through Amy’s diary entries we see that the oft-mused about “Cool Girl” she’s led her husband, the audience and, indeed, herself to believe she embodies is nothing more than a narcissistic reverse Pygmalion creation. To refresh, Cool Girls are, “Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me. I don’t mind. I’m the Cool Girl.

“Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl.”

Let us study the ways in which Amy and Nick Dunne play right into these fictions.

Much has been made of the abovementioned Cool Girl, and while Amy is by no means an innocent victim in the cat-and-mouse game her marriage devolves into, Flynn—both on paper and screen—also crafted an interesting commentary on Nice Guys and their entitlement to women.

Flynn writes in the book that Nick would “literally lie, cheat, and steal—hell, kill—to convince people you are a good guy” and not the “daddy’s boy” who abuses women. Pages later: “Women are fucking crazy. No qualifier: Not some women, not many women. Women are crazy.”

At the risk of sounding like a misandrist victim-blamer, in a way Nick almost deserves what Amy does to him, not only for shoving her into a wall and calling her and other women “fucking cunts”, but also for his utter unwillingness to take responsibility for his part in his toxic marriage. He even needs to be prompted by the lead detective on Amy’s case, Rhonda Boney (played by Kim Dickens on screen), to notify his missing wife’s parents of her disappearance. Flynn writes that Nick let himself “drift on in the miserable situation, assuming that at some point Amy would take charge. Amy would demand a divorce, and then I would get to be the good guy… This desire—to escape the situation without blame—was despicable.” In his effort to come across as the consummate Nice Guy, Nick becomes a doormat for Amy’s wicked ways. After all, Nick “couldn’t bear to have everyone in this family-values town believe he’s the kind of guy who’d abandon his wife and child. He’d rather stay and suffer with me. Suffer and resent and rage.” And suffer and resent and rage he does.

Using perceived niceness as a scapegoat is also a tactic Amy employs when she frames a second man in her quest for revenge. Desi Collings, played eerily in the film by Neil Patrick Harris, was an obsessive high school boyfriend of Amy’s with whom she’d kept in touch in the two decades since because “it’s good to have at least one man you can use for anything”. When Amy’s initial plan to live off the grid while she sent Nick “to the woodshed” goes awry, she uses the reliable, but equally-as-controlling-as-Nick Desi to shelter her from the storm while she contemplates her next move (hint: it involves a lot of blood). In the aftermath of Amy’s return, she maintains that she just “tried to be nice to [Desi]”. Here Amy plays into the excuse used by victim-blamers far and wide: you were too nice to him, that’s why he followed you home/raped you/murdered you.

The “Blurred Lines” of consent that Gone Girl alludes to here can be seen in the 2013 song of the same name by Robin Thicke. In a meta move on the part of the movie’s casting director, model Emily Ratajkowski, who appears topless and performing suggestive acts with animals and balloons in the “Blurred Lines” video, can also be seen in her first major feature film role as Nick’s college-aged mistress. Long after Thicke ceased to be pop culturally relevant his “rape anthem” is still inspiring sociopaths the world over.

Speaking of, Nick’s lawyer in the film, “defender of white killers everywhere” Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) conjures images of the Isla Vista shooting rampage committed by college student Elliot Rodger in May this year. Rodger’s 140-page manifesto and video messages vilifying “blonde sluts” who “starved me of sex” gave motive to his attacks on both men and women. In an effort to debunk that #NotAllMen are misogynist time bombs just waiting to rape and murder women—#YesAllWomen—and prove that patriarchy hurts all genders the respective hashtags and a social media debate was spawned. The theatrical release of Gone Girl poses more questions as to whether social media campaigns like this are successful: were general audiences unfamiliar with the scathing commentary on gender Flynn crafts on the page savvy enough to pick up on it in the theatre?

Like Rodgers’ misogynistic missive that led to the deaths of six people, Amy constructs a manifesto of her own. Upon the first encounter of Gone Girl, you’d be confused as to whether the internalised misogyny that Amy spews in her fake dairy entries is what Flynn truly believes or a dissection of it. Does Gone Girl perpetuate the all-to-common attitudes that women are lying, manipulative bitches and their male partners “dancing monkeys”?

On the whole, the Gone Girl narrative as told on film is essentially about the Nice Guy who’s judged in the court of public opinion to have murdered and disposed of his wife. At Amy’s candlelight vigil, Nick takes the time to defend himself against the media’s accusations that he’s creepy (“but hot”, as some “groupie whores” deem him to be), socially inept and an obviously guilty spouse instead of, you know, pleading for information that might help lead to finding the “gone girl” in question.

As Amy writes in an attempt to justify her scheme, “everyone loves the Dead Girl”. This may be so, but we have a deeper desire to get to know the white men who abuse the “unwanted, inconvenient,” formerly Cool Girls than the Dead Girls themselves. And unfortunately, Gone Girl doesn’t suggest otherwise.

Elsewhere: [Buzzfeed] Jennifer Lawrence & the History of Cool Girls.

*Blanket spoiler alert.

Image via Fat Movie Guy.

The Problem with Sex & the City 2.

sex and the city 2 carrie book review

I’ve been thinking and wanting to write about Sex & the City 2 for quite some time, but I was never sure of the right angle to take. Having just rewatched the whole series, culminating in the arguably ill-fated films, I think I’m ready to dip my toe in the shark-infested waters that surround Sex & the City 2.

SATC2 picks up where the first film left off: the franchise’s ascent into affluence but its decent of integrity. And where better to splash some new money than the “new” Middle East: Abu Dhabi.

I stand by the series and even the first movie, but Carrie and the girls are pressing my loyalty with their Arabian adventure. Samantha throwing condoms around the souk in an effort to assert her empowerment (a sentiment I don’t disagree with, but can we please respect multiculturalism?) followed by some covered Muslim women revealing their gaudy designer garb under their abayas and hijabs because FASHUN = the end of gender inequality could certainly have been omitted from the second cinematic outing and it still would have been a semi-palatable film. While these antics blatantly show how out of touch SATC has become, the girls’ ignorance is echoed throughout the film when Charlotte gets sucked into having “the Forbidden Experience” (purchasing black market designer wares) and questions what the call to prayer means. You’d think that before jetting off to the land of “desert moons, Scheherazade and magic carpets” women who are as free as they are would be a little more in touch with the culture and what’s expected of them there. Smart Traveller, hello?!

What I do like about the Middle Eastern flair of the film, though, is the thematic parallels between women wearing veils to silence their voices and the question of whether Carrie, after five books and countless “I couldn’t help but wonder”’s (literally; I lost count after about ten when I rewatched the series. Repetition, much?!), should shut up.

This seems to be the consensus, as New York magazine’s review of her latest book, I Do! Do I?, is titled “The Vow of Silence”. And in the accompanying illustration, Carrie is drawn with tape across her mouth, to echo the silencing of their Middle Eastern counterparts: “It’s like they don’t want them to have a voice,” Carrie observes. Synergy!

The concept of women’s voices is echoed elsewhere in the films’ storylines, with Miranda quitting her job because her misogynist boss didn’t respect her “strong female voice”, and Charlotte blaming Samantha for “open[ing] her big mouth” about her hot, braless nanny being a distraction for Harry.

Looking back on enlightenment of the series, it makes me sad that the insight into women’s lives, sex and otherwise, that it was so famous for has been completely erased from Sex & the City 2 in the name of capitalism and cultural insensitivity.

Related: In Defence of Sex & the City.

Movies: Ruby Sparks & The Catcher in the Rye*.

As I have written over the past week or so, there are many ways to interpret Ruby Sparks, whether as a commentary on the indie movie phenomenon of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl or the abusive nature of protagonist Calvin and title character Ruby’s relationship.

But I also picked up on the use of Catcher in the Rye as a sort of metaphor for Calvin’s tortured soul and his equally tortured relationship with Ruby. The intertwining of Calvin’s obsession with the way people perceive his dog, Scotty, and thereby perceive him, is made all the more symbolic in the scene where Calvin comes home late to discover Scotty’s trashed his room, peed in his bed and eaten a copy of J.D. Salinger’s seminal work.

It’s not really until the end of the movie that all the subtle references to the book come together as pieces of the puzzle. For those of you who have read Catcher in the Rye (I would assume everyone has, but those who I’ve spoken to about the movie in the hopes of getting their thoughts on the inclusion of the book as a theme have been unenlightened as to Holden Caulfield’s story), it could be interpreted that none of what Holden describes throughout the novel actually happened, as his mental capacity is questionable. Calvin is akin to a modern day Holden Caulfield, if only in terms of mental health, in that he sees a shrink (though in the creative world, who doesn’t?), has skewed views of what women should be and literally imagines his dream girl into existence.

This calls into question the turn of events depicted in the movie. Did Calvin imagine Ruby and their whole relationship? Did he black out around the time he met her, wrote about her and, reading back over his work, doesn’t remember how he met her, thereby making himself believe that she came to life from his writing? We know his family met and loved Ruby, but could that be a construction of his imagination? Holden concludes Catcher in the Rye in a mental facility; is that were Calvin tells his story from, too?

To further support the notion that something’s not right with Calvin’s account of his relationship with Ruby, his shrink, Dr. Rosenthal, asks him if he’s sure Ruby’s not real…

To employ the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope here, too, Ruby initially functions as a female version of Calvin to somehow narcissistically improve his existence. That he writes her to be depressed, then euphoric, then back again, and looks at her with pity when she expresses these extreme emotions could be seen as Calvin dealing with his own emotional ups and downs.

I don’t have the answers and there’s a good chance that I’m overthinking Ruby Sparks too much, but from my point of view there are endless realms of possibility the film could be taken in to.

What do you think?

Related: Ruby Sparks & the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Ruby Sparks & the Abusive Relationship.

*Blanket spoiler alert for both Ruby Sparks AND The Catcher in the Rye.

Image via The Thousands.

Movies: Ruby Sparks & the Abusive Relationship*.

I first went into Ruby Sparks thinking it was going to be just another quirky, indie (500) Days of Summer-esque vehicle to cement writer and star Zoe Kazan as the newest Manic Pixie Dream Girl of the same first name to watch.

For the first third of the movie, I wasn’t wrong. It deals with main character Calvin’s decade-long writers block and feelings of “inadequacy” at not being able to live up to his “genius” and “boy wonder” monikers upon the release of his first (and only) novel when he was in his late teens. Naturally, the role of titular character and token MPDG, Ruby, is to come into Calvin’s life in a whirlwind of “messy”-ness, complication and coloured tights and help him out of his creative rut. Ruby Sparks is the exception to the MPDG rule, though, as where (500) Days’ Summer and Sam of Garden State are real women (though “girls” would be a more accurate description) whom the male protagonists envision as their ideal mates, Ruby is literally Calvin’s dream lover: he wrote her on his pretentious typewriter.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Kazan responds to the idea of Ruby Sparks as a critique of the MPDG and how she didn’t initially have that goal when she wrote the screenplay. She also talks about the twist in the third act in which Calvin’s need to have Ruby conform to his dream girl stereotype turns into an abusive obsession with controlling her:

“I think if you’re going to make a movie in which a man can control a woman, if you don’t push it to the extreme, it’s going to be sexist.”

It’s funny she said that, as I had trouble reconciling the fact that a seemingly switched-on woman wrote Ruby Sparks with the first half of it which, as I mentioned above, had one of the only female characters succumb to the idea of what a certain kind of woman should be. (Then again, men don’t have a monopoly on sexism.) “You haven’t written a person; you’ve written a girl,” Calvin’s brother, Harry, tells him upon reading his first draft.

Ruby is a girl who at first seems like a fun-loving, spirited artist with no threatening aspirations of capitalising on her illustrative talents (she admits she’s “super good”) by parlaying them into a career. When Ruby does express a desire to get out of the house more, meet some people and maybe get a job, Calvin begs her to stay with him because “I don’t need anyone else”, and neither should she.

It emerges that Calvin’s last serious lover was a novelist, too, whom he bumps into at a book party at which Ruby frolics in her underwear in the pool with Calvin’s agent and subsequently gets slut-shamed by her boyfriend for it. Calvin’s ex tells him that “it’s like you had this image of me and anything I did to contradict it you just ignored… The only person you wanted to be in a relationship with was you.”

Ruby in her original form, before Calvin starts making “tweaks” the moment she develops some autonomy, is essentially a female version of her creator. Not only has Kazan taken the notion of the MPDG and the trope’s traditional role in shaping and changing her male counterparts’ life and turned it on its head, but she has indeed taken Ruby and Calvin’s relationship to the extreme in the ultimate spin on intimate partner abuse.

When Ruby’s had enough and suggests she stay at her apartment after the book party, Calvin reveals he has utter control over her because she’s not real. While on the surface the suspension of disbelief required by the audience makes this a true statement in the context of the film, the more insidious subtext is that Calvin has such a skewed view of what women should be that it seems he’s saying that not only does Ruby not exist in real life, but nor do real women in his. In fact, they’re more like domestic animals to be controlled, as with Calvin’s written manipulation of Ruby in this scene where he types her on all fours barking like a dog: the ultimate act of degradation.

Speaking of dogs, Calvin’s inferiority complex which so many abusive partners have is evident in his treatment of his dog, Scotty, named for fellow tortured soul and wife-beater, F. Scott Fitzgerald. He prefers the idea of a dog as opposed to actually being a pet owner, because he’d like fellow park-goers to “stop to pet him and I would meet them but Scotty gets scared when people try to pet him”. He gets defensive when Scotty goes to the toilet like a female canine as, by extension, it threatens Calvin’s masculinity. Of course Calvin appropriates Ruby’s shine to Scotty despite or perhaps because of his oddities into a metaphor for her feelings towards her future abuser.

If it wasn’t for the happily-ever-after cop-out of an ending, what initially seemed like the indie movie du jour has turned into a commentary on Manic Pixie Dream Girls and the danger of emotionally abusive relationships.

Related: Ruby Sparks & the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Elsewhere: [HuffPo] Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks Writer & Star: “Quirky” Means Nothing.

*Blanket spoiler alert.

Image via Groucho Reviews.